The Different Types of Password Cracking Techniques
One of the most popular cracking techniques for passwords of up to eight characters is the brute-force attack. This is basically a hit-and-miss method, as the hacker systematically checks all possible characters, calculates the hash of the string combination and then compares it with the obtained password hash.
The success of brute-force attacks depends on the length of the password. In a brute-force attack the hacker tries every single combination of letters, numbers, and punctuation to generate a password. If the password is long, this technique takes more time: from minutes to several years, depending on the system used and password length.
While similar to a brute-force attack, there is one major difference between the two techniques. In this scenario, the hacker uses a list of probable matches (based on words of the English language, for example) instead of trying all potential characters one by one. Dictionary attack tools often include known passwords, words from the English language, sentences from books, and more.
Combined Dictionary Attacks
Taking the dictionary attack one step further and adding even more complexity, hackers can combine a list of existing words with numbers in the same way that humans might when creating new passwords – such as by swapping the letter ‘e’ with ‘3’. This technique is called a combined dictionary attack, where the database used can contain words from one or more dictionaries.
Hybrid Dictionary and Rule-Based Dictionary Attacks
The hybrid dictionary attack is the method of taking the words listed in a dictionary and combining them with a brute-force attack by prepending three numbers to each entry. You'll get results such as apple up to apple. This, however, can still take some time to generate results, so spicing up the password guesswork with a few rules can shorten the length of time it might take to crack. This method, however, leaves plenty of room for hacker creativity in defining the rules that the password cracking software will apply.
Rainbow Table Attacks
A rainbow table is a pre-compiled table used for recovering hashes. Each rainbow table is for a specific length of password containing a well-defined set of characters. This technique aims to reduce the guessing time but is limited to passwords no longer than nine characters and hashes without password salt.
Markov Chains Attacks
To use the Markov Chains technique hackers need to assemble a certain password database, split each password into 2-grams and 3-grams (2- and 3-character-long syllables), develop a new alphabet where these different elements act as letters and then match it with the existing password database.
Finally, the hacker sets a threshold of occurrences that will be the basis of the next step and selects only the letters from the new alphabet that appear at least the minimum number of times, as chosen by the hacker. Then the method combines these into words of a maximum eight characters in length and utilizes the dictionary attack once again.
How to Secure Passwords
Since attacks can take many forms, the best way to protect yourself against hackers is to use long, unique passwords for every account. There are some easy tricks for creating strong passwords but, in the end, it all boils down to where and how you store those passwords.
It might be super-strong and the best password you have ever created, but if you write it down and store it somewhere, then it can easily be accessed by anyone who finds it. You can use any of the three secure password storage methods that we recommend, or use a password manager.
Best Password Managers of
|Editor's Choice |
- Simple, straightforward
- Flawless data import
- Built-in VPN
- Advanced iOS/Android app
Six Types of Password Attacks & How to Stop Them
Password attacks are one of the most common forms of corporate and personal data breach. A password attack is simply when a hacker trys to steal your password. In , 81% of data breaches were due to compromised credentials. Because passwords can only contain so many letters and numbers, passwords are becoming less safe. Hackers know that many passwords are poorly designed, so password attacks will remain a method of attack as long as passwords are being used.
Protect yourself from password attacks with the information below.
Phishing is when a hacker posing as a trustworthy party sends you a fraudulent email, hoping you will reveal your personal information voluntarily. Sometimes they lead you to fake "reset your password" screens; other times, the links install malicious code on your device. We highlight several examples on the OneLogin blog.
Here are a few examples of phishing:
- Regular phishing. You get an email from what looks like goodwebsite.com asking you to reset your password, but you didn't read closely and it's actually goodwobsite.com. You "reset your password" and the hacker steals your credentials.
- Spear phishing. A hacker targets you specifically with an email that appears to be from a friend, colleague, or associate. It has a brief, generic blurb ("Check out the invoice I attached and let me know if it makes sense.") and hopes you click on the malicious attachment.
- Smishing and vishing. You receive a text message (SMS phishing, or smishing) or phone call (voice phishing, or vishing) from a hacker who informs you that your account has been frozen or that fraud has been detected. You enter your account information and the hacker steals it.
- Whaling. You or your organization receive an email purportedly from a senior figure in your company. You don't do your homework on the email's veracity and send sensitive information to a hacker.
To avoid phishing attacks, follow these steps:
- Check who sent the email: look at the From: line in every email to ensure that the person they claim to be matches the email address you're expecting.
- Double check with the source: when in doubt, contact the person who the email is from and ensure that they were the sender.
- Check in with your IT team: your organization's IT department can often tell you if the email you received is legitimate.
2. Man-in-the-middle attack
Man-in-the middle (MitM) attacks are when a hacker or compromised system sits in between two uncompromised people or systems and deciphers the information they're passing to each other, including passwords. If Alice and Bob are passing notes in class, but Jeremy has to relay those notes, Jeremy has the opportunity to be the man in the middle. Similarly, in , Equifax removed its apps from the App Store and Google Play store because they were passing sensitive data over insecure channels where hackers could have stolen customer information.
To help prevent man-in-the-middle attacks:
- Enable encryption on your router. If your modem and router can be accessed by anyone off the street, they can use "sniffer" technology to see the information that is passed through it.
- Use strong credentials and two-factor authentication. Many router credentials are never changed from the default username and password. If a hacker gets access to your router administration, they can redirect all your traffic to their hacked servers.
- Use a VPN. A secure virtual private network (VPN) will help prevent man-in-the-middle attacks by ensuring that all the servers you send data to are trusted.
3. Brute force attack
If a password is equivalent to using a key to open a door, a brute force attack is using a battering ram. A hacker can try trillion password/username combinations in 22 seconds, and if your password is simple, your account could be in the crosshairs.
To help prevent brute force attacks:
- Use a complex password. The difference between an all-lowercase, all-alphabetic, six-digit password and a mixed case, mixed-character, ten-digit password is enormous. As your password's complexity increases, the chance of a successful brute force attack decreases.
- Enable and configure remote access. Ask your IT department if your company uses remote access management. An access management tool like OneLogin will mitigate the risk of a brute-force attack.
- Require multi-factor authentication. If multi-factor authentication (MFA) is enabled on your account, a potential hacker can only send a request to your second factor for access to your account. Hackers likely won't have access to your mobile device or thumbprint, which means they'll be locked out of your account.
4. Dictionary attack
A type of brute force attack, dictionary attacks rely on our habit of picking "basic" words as our password, the most common of which hackers have collated into "cracking dictionaries." More sophisticated dictionary attacks incorporate words that are personally important to you, like a birthplace, child's name, or pet's name.
To help prevent a dictionary attack:
- Never use a dictionary word as a password. If you've read it in a book, it should never be part of your password. If you must use a password instead of an access management tool, consider using a password management system.
- Lock accounts after too many password failures. It can be frustrating to be locked out of your account when you briefly forget a password, but the alternative is often account insecurity. Give yourself five or fewer tries before your application tells you to cool down.
- Consider investing in a password manager. Password managers automatically generate complex passwords that help prevent dictionary attacks.
5. Credential stuffing
If you've suffered a hack in the past, you know that your old passwords were likely leaked onto a disreputable website. Credential stuffing takes advantage of accounts that never had their passwords changed after an account break-in. Hackers will try various combinations of former usernames and passwords, hoping the victim never changed them.
To help prevent credential stuffing:
- Monitor your accounts. There are paid services that will monitor your online identities, but you can also use free services like haveIbeenpwned.com to check whether your email address is connected to any recent leaks.
- Regularly change your passwords. The longer one password goes unchanged, the more likely it is that a hacker will find a way to crack it.
- Use a password manager. Like a dictionary attack, many credential stuffing attacks can be avoided by having a strong and secure password. A password manager helps maintain those.
Keyloggers are a type of malicious software designed to track every keystroke and report it back to a hacker. Typically, a user will download the software believing it to be legitimate, only for it to install a keylogger without notice.
To protect yourself from keyloggers:
- Check your physical hardware. If someone has access to your workstation, they can install a hardware keylogger to collect information about your keystrokes. Regularly inspect your computer and the surrounding area to make sure you know each piece of hardware.
- Run a virus scan. Use a reputable antivirus software to scan your computer on a regular basis. Antivirus companies keep their records of the most common malware keyloggers and will flag them as dangerous.
Preventing password attacks
The best way to fix a password attack is to avoid one in the first place. Ask your IT professional about proactively investing in a common security policy that includes:
Multi-factor authentication. Using a physical token (like a Yubikey) or a personal device (like a mobile phone) to authenticate users ensures that passwords are not the sole gate to access.
Remote access. Using a smart remote access platform like OneLogin means that individual websites are no longer the source of user trust. Instead, OneLogin ensures that the user's identity is confirmed, then logs them in.
Biometrics. A malicious actor will find it very difficult to replicate your fingerprint or facial shape. Enabling biometric authentication turns your password into only one of several points of trust that a hacker needs to overcome.
Understanding the password-cracking techniques hackers use to blow your online accounts wide open is a great way to ensure it never happens to you.
You certainly will always need to change your password, and sometimes more urgently than you think, but mitigating against theft is a great way to stay on top of your account security. You can always head to www.haveibeenpwned.com to check if you’re at risk, but simply thinking your password is secure enough to not be hacked into is a bad mindset to have.
So, to help you understand just how hackers get your passwords – secure or otherwise – we’ve put together a list of the top ten password-cracking techniques used by hackers. Some of the below methods are certainly outdated, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still being used. Read carefully and learn what to mitigate against.
The Top Ten Password-cracking Techniques Used by Hackers
1. Dictionary Attack
The dictionary attack uses a simple file containing words that can be found in a dictionary, hence its rather straightforward name. In other words, this attack uses exactly the kind of words that many people use as their password.
Cleverly grouping words together such as “letmein” or “superadministratorguy” will not prevent your password from being cracked this way – well, not for more than a few extra seconds.
2. Brute Force Attack
Similar to the dictionary attack, the brute force attack comes with an added bonus for the hacker. Instead of simply using words, a brute force attack lets them detect non-dictionary words by working through all possible alpha-numeric combinations from aaa1 to zzz
It’s not quick, provided your password is over a handful of characters long, but it will uncover your password eventually. Brute force attacks can be shortened by throwing additional computing horsepower, in terms of both processing power – including harnessing the power of your video card GPU – and machine numbers, such as using distributed computing models like online bitcoin miners.
3. Rainbow Table Attack
Rainbow tables aren’t as colorful as their name may imply but, for a hacker, your password could well be at the end of it. In the most straightforward way possible, you can boil a rainbow table down into a list of pre-computed hashes – the numerical value used when encrypting a password. This table contains hashes of all possible password combinations for any given hashing algorithm. Rainbow tables are attractive as it reduces the time needed to crack a password hash to simply just looking something up in a list.
However, rainbow tables are huge, unwieldy things. They require serious computing power to run and a table becomes useless if the hash it’s trying to find has been “salted” by the addition of random characters to its password ahead of hashing the algorithm.
There is talk of salted rainbow tables existing, but these would be so large as to be difficult to use in practice. They would likely only work with a predefined “random character” set and password strings below 12 characters as the size of the table would be prohibitive to even state-level hackers otherwise.
There’s an easy way to hack, ask the user for his or her password. A phishing email leads the unsuspecting reader to a spoofed log in page associated with whatever service it is the hacker wants to access, usually by requesting the user to put right some terrible problem with their security. That page then skims their password and the hacker can go use it for their own purpose.
Why bother going to the trouble of cracking the password when the user will happily give it to you anyway?
5. Social Engineering
Social engineering takes the whole “ask the user” concept outside of the inbox that phishing tends to stick with and into the real world.
A favorite of the social engineer is to call an office posing as an IT security tech guy and simply ask for the network access password. You’d be amazed at how often this works. Some even have the necessary gonads to don a suit and name badge before walking into a business to ask the receptionist the same question face to face.
A keylogger, or screen scraper, can be installed by malware which records everything you type or takes screenshots during a login process, and then forwards a copy of this file to hacker central.
Some malware will look for the existence of a web browser client password file and copy this which, unless properly encrypted, will contain easily accessible saved passwords from the user’s browsing history.
7. Offline Cracking
It’s easy to imagine that passwords are safe when the systems they protect lock out users after three or four wrong guesses, blocking automated guessing applications. Well, that would be true if it were not for the fact that most password hacking takes place offline, using a set of hashes in a password file that has been ‘obtained’ from a compromised system.
Often the target in question has been compromised via a hack on a third party, which then provides access to the system servers and those all-important user password hash files. The password cracker can then take as long as they need to try and crack the code without alerting the target system or individual user.
8. Shoulder Surfing
Another form of social engineering, shoulder surfing, just as it implies, entails peeking over a person’s shoulders while they’re entering credentials, passwords, etc. Although the concept is very low tech, you’d be surprised how many passwords and sensitive information is stolen this way, so remain aware of your surroundings when accessing bank accounts, etc. on the go.
The most confident of hackers will take the guise of a parcel courier, aircon service technician, or anything else that gets them access to an office building. Once they are in, the service personnel “uniform” provides a kind of free pass to wander around unhindered, and make note of passwords being entered by genuine members of staff. It also provides an excellent opportunity to eyeball all those post-it notes stuck to the front of LCD screens with logins scribbled upon them.
Savvy hackers have realized that many corporate passwords are made up of words that are connected to the business itself. Studying corporate literature, website sales material, and even the websites of competitors and listed customers can provide the ammunition to build a custom word list to use in a brute force attack.
Really savvy hackers have automated the process and let a spidering application, similar to the web crawlers employed by leading search engines to identify keywords, collect and collate the lists for them.
The password crackers’ best friend, of course, is the predictability of the user. Unless a truly random password has been created using software dedicated to the task, a user-generated ‘random’ password is unlikely to be anything of the sort.
Instead, thanks to our brains’ emotional attachment to things we like, the chances are those random passwords are based upon our interests, hobbies, pets, family, and so on. In fact, passwords tend to be based on all the things we like to chat about on social networks and even include in our profiles. Password crackers are very likely to look at this information and make a few – often correct – educated guesses when attempting to crack a consumer-level password without resorting to dictionary or brute force attacks.
Other Attacks to Beware Of
If hackers are lacking anything, it isn’t creativity. Using a variety of techniques and adapting to ever-changing security protocols, these interlopers continue to succeed.
For example, anyone on Social Media has likely seen the fun quizzes and templates asking you to talk about your first car, your favorite food, the number one song on your 14th birthday. While these games seem harmless and they’re certainly fun to post, they’re actually an open template for security questions and account access verification answers.
When setting up an account, perhaps try using answers that don’t actually pertain to you but, that you can easily remember. “What was your first car?” Instead of answering truthfully, put your dream car instead. Otherwise, simply don’t post any security answers online.
Another way to gain access is simply resetting your password. The best line of defense against an interloper resetting your password is using an email address that you check frequently and keeping your contact information updated. If available, always enable 2-factor authentication. Even if the hacker learns your password, they can’t access the account without a unique verification code.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do I need a different password for every site?
You probably know that you shouldn’t give out your passwords and you shouldn’t download any content you’re not familiar with, but what about the accounts you sign into every day? Suppose you use the same password for your bank account that you use for an arbitrary account like Grammarly. If Grammarly is hacked, the user then has your banking password too (and possibly your email making it even easier to gain access to all of your financial resources).
What can I do to protect my accounts?
Using 2FA on any accounts that offer the feature, using unique passwords for each account, and using a mixture of letters and symbols is the best line of defense against hackers. As stated previously, there are a lot of different ways that hackers gain access to your accounts, so other things you need to make sure that you’re doing regularly is keeping your software and apps up-to-date (for security patches) and avoiding any downloads you aren’t familiar with.
What is the safest way to keep passwords?
Keeping up with several uniquely strange passwords can be incredibly difficult. Although it’s far better to go through the password reset process than it is to have your accounts compromised, it is time-consuming. To keep your passwords safe you can use a service like Last Pass or KeePass to save all of your account passwords.
You can also use a unique algorithm to keep your passwords while making them easier to remember. For example, PayPal could be something like hwpp+c Essentially, this password is the first letter of each break in the URL (https://www.paypal.com) with the last number in the birth year of everyone in your home (just as an example). When you go to log into your account, view the URL which will give you the first few letters of this password.
Add symbols to make your password even more difficult to hack but organize them so that they’re easier to remember. For example, the “+” symbol can be for any accounts related to entertainment while the “!” can be used for financial accounts.
Recovering passwords stored or transmitted by computer systems
In cryptanalysis and computer security, password cracking is the process of recovering passwords from data that has been stored in or transmitted by a computer system in scrambled form. A common approach (brute-force attack) is to repeatedly try guesses for the password and to check them against an available cryptographic hash of the password. Another type of approach is password spraying, which is often automated and occurs slowly over time in order to remain undetected, using a list of common passwords.
The purpose of password cracking might be to help a user recover a forgotten password (installing an entirely new password is less of a security risk, but it involves System Administration privileges), to gain unauthorized access to a system, or to act as a preventive measure whereby system administrators check for easily crackable passwords. On a file-by-file basis, password cracking is utilized to gain access to digital evidence to which a judge has allowed access, when a particular file's permissions are restricted.
Time needed for password searches
The time to crack a password is related to bit strength (seepassword strength), which is a measure of the password's entropy, and the details of how the password is stored. Most methods of password cracking require the computer to produce many candidate passwords, each of which is checked. One example is brute-force cracking, in which a computer tries every possible key or password until it succeeds. With multiple processors, this time can be optimized through searching from the last possible group of symbols and the beginning at the same time, with other processors being placed to search through a designated selection of possible passwords. More common methods of password cracking, such as dictionary attacks, pattern checking, word list substitution, etc. attempt to reduce the number of trials required and will usually be attempted before brute force. Higher password bit strength exponentially increases the number of candidate passwords that must be checked, on average, to recover the password and reduces the likelihood that the password will be found in any cracking dictionary.
The ability to crack passwords using computer programs is also a function of the number of possible passwords per second which can be checked. If a hash of the target password is available to the attacker, this number can be in the billions or trillions per second, since an offline attack is possible. If not, the rate depends on whether the authentication software limits how often a password can be tried, either by time delays, , or forced lockouts after some number of failed attempts. Another situation where quick guessing is possible is when the password is used to form a cryptographic key. In such cases, an attacker can quickly check to see if a guessed password successfully decodes encrypted data.
For some kinds of password hash, ordinary desktop computers can test over a hundred million passwords per second using password cracking tools running on a general purpose CPU and billions of passwords per second using GPU-based password cracking tools (See: John the Ripper benchmarks). The rate of password guessing depends heavily on the cryptographic function used by the system to generate password hashes. A suitable password hashing function, such as bcrypt, is many orders of magnitude better than a naive function like simple MD5 or SHA. A user-selected eight-character password with numbers, mixed case, and symbols, with commonly selected passwords and other dictionary matches filtered out, reaches an estimated bit strength, according to NIST. 230 is only one billion permutations and would be cracked in seconds if the hashing function is naive. When ordinary desktop computers are combined in a cracking effort, as can be done with botnets, the capabilities of password cracking are considerably extended. In , distributed.net successfully found a bit RC5 key in four years, in an effort which included over , different computers at various times, and which generated an average of over 12 billion keys per second.
Graphics processors can speed up password cracking by a factor of 50 to over general purpose computers for specific hashing algorithms. As of , available commercial products claim the ability to test up to 2,,, passwords a second on a standard desktop computer using a high-end graphics processor. Such a device can crack a 10 letter single-case password in one day. The work can be distributed over many computers for an additional speedup proportional to the number of available computers with comparable GPUs.. However some algorithms are or even are specifically designed to run slow on GPUs. Examples include (triple) DES, bcrypt , scrypt and Argon2.
The emergence of hardware acceleration over the past decade GPU has enabled resources to be used to increase the efficiency and speed of a brute force attack for most hashing algorithms. In , Stricture Consulting Group unveiled a GPU cluster that achieved a brute force attack speed of billion guesses per second, allowing them to check password combinations in hours. Using ocl-Hashcat Plus on a Virtual OpenCL cluster platform, the Linux-based GPU cluster was used to "crack 90 percent of the million password hashes belonging to users of LinkedIn."
For some specific hashing algorithms, CPUs and GPUs are not a good match. Purpose made hardware is required to run at high speeds. Custom hardware can be made using FPGA or ASIC technology. Development for both technologies is complex and (very) expensive. In general, FPGAs are favorable in small quantities, ASICs are favorable in (very) large quantities, more energy efficient and faster. In , the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) built a dedicated password cracker using ASICs. Their machine, Deep Crack, broke a DES bit key in 56 hours, testing over 90 billion keys per second. In , leaked documents show that ASICs are used for a military project to code-break the entire internet. Designing and building ASIC-basic password crackers is assumed to be out of reach for non-governments. Since , John the Ripper supports password cracking for a limited number of hashing algorithms using FPGAs. FPGA-based setups are now in use by commercial companies for password cracking.
Easy to remember, hard to guess
Passwords that are difficult to remember will reduce the security of a system because (a) users might need to write down or electronically store the password using an insecure method, (b) users will need frequent password resets and (c) users are more likely to re-use the same password. Similarly, the more stringent requirements for password strength, e.g. "have a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters and digits" or "change it monthly", the greater the degree to which users will subvert the system.
In "The Memorability and Security of Passwords", Jeff Yan et al. examines the effect of advice given to users about a good choice of password. They found that passwords based on thinking of a phrase and taking the first letter of each word are just as memorable as naively selected passwords, and just as hard to crack as randomly generated passwords. Combining two unrelated words is another good method. Having a personally designed "algorithm" for generating obscure passwords is another good method.
However, asking users to remember a password consisting of a "mix of uppercase and lowercase characters" is similar to asking them to remember a sequence of bits: hard to remember, and only a little bit harder to crack (e.g. only times harder to crack for 7-letter passwords, less if the user simply capitalizes one of the letters). Asking users to use "both letters and digits" will often lead to easy-to-guess substitutions such as 'E' → '3' and 'I' → '1', substitutions which are well known to attackers. Similarly typing the password one keyboard row higher is a common trick known to attackers.
Research detailed in an April paper by several professors at Carnegie Mellon University shows that people's choices of password structure often follow several known patterns. As a result, passwords may be much more easily cracked than their mathematical probabilities would otherwise indicate. Passwords containing one digit, for example, disproportionately include it at the end of the password.
On July 16, , CERT reported an incident where an attacker had found , encrypted passwords. By the time they were discovered, they had already cracked 47, passwords.
In December , a major password breach of the Rockyou.com website occurred that led to the release of 32 million passwords. The attacker then leaked the full list of the 32 million passwords (with no other identifiable information) to the internet. Passwords were stored in cleartext in the database and were extracted through a SQL Injection vulnerability. The Imperva Application Defense Center (ADC) did an analysis on the strength of the passwords.
In June , NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) experienced a security breach that led to the public release of first and last names, usernames, and passwords for more than 11, registered users of their e-bookshop. The data were leaked as part of Operation AntiSec, a movement that includes Anonymous, LulzSec, as well as other hacking groups and individuals.
On July 11, , Booz Allen Hamilton, a large American Consulting firm that does a substantial amount of work for the Pentagon, had their servers hacked by Anonymous and leaked the same day. "The leak, dubbed 'Military Meltdown Monday,' includes 90, logins of military personnel—including personnel from USCENTCOM, SOCOM, the Marine Corps, various Air Force facilities, Homeland Security, State Department staff, and what looks like private sector contractors." These leaked passwords wound up being hashed with unsaltedSHA-1, and were later analyzed by the ADC team at Imperva, revealing that even some military personnel used passwords as weak as "".
On July 18, , Microsoft Hotmail banned the password: "".
In July , a group calling itself "The Impact Team" stole the user data of Ashley Madison. Many passwords were hashed using both the relatively strong bcrypt algorithm and the weaker MD5 hash. Attacking the latter algorithm allowed some 11 million plaintext passwords to be recovered by password cracking group CynoSure Prime.
One method of preventing a password from being cracked is to ensure that attackers cannot get access even to the hashed password. For example, on the Unixoperating system, hashed passwords were originally stored in a publicly accessible file . On modern Unix (and similar) systems, on the other hand, they are stored in the shadow password file , which is accessible only to programs running with enhanced privileges (i.e., "system" privileges). This makes it harder for a malicious user to obtain the hashed passwords in the first instance, however many collections of password hashes have been stolen despite such protection. And some common network protocols transmit passwords in cleartext or use weak challenge/response schemes.
Another approach is to combine a site-specific secret key with the password hash, which prevents plaintext password recovery even if the hashed values are purloined. However privilege escalation attacks that can steal protected hash files may also expose the site secret. A third approach is to use key derivation functions that reduce the rate at which passwords can be guessed.:
Another protection measure is the use of salt, a random value unique to each password that is incorporated in the hashing. Salt prevents multiple hashes from being attacked simultaneously and also prevents the creation of precomputed dictionaries such as rainbow tables.
Modern Unix Systems have replaced the traditional DES-based password hashing function crypt() with stronger methods such as crypt-SHA, bcrypt and scrypt. Other systems have also begun to adopt these methods. For instance, the Cisco IOS originally used a reversible Vigenère cipher to encrypt passwords, but now uses md5-crypt with a bit salt when the "enable secret" command is used. These newer methods use large salt values which prevent attackers from efficiently mounting offline attacks against multiple user accounts simultaneously. The algorithms are also much slower to execute which drastically increases the time required to mount a successful offline attack.
Many hashes used for storing passwords, such as MD5 and the SHA family, are designed for fast computation with low memory requirements and efficient implementation in hardware. Multiple instances of these algorithms can be run in parallel on graphics processing units (GPUs), speeding cracking. As a result, fast hashes are ineffective in preventing password cracking, even with salt. Some key stretching algorithms, such as PBKDF2 and crypt-SHA iteratively calculate password hashes and can significantly reduce the rate at which passwords can be tested, if the iteration count is high enough. Other algorithms, such as scrypt are memory-hard, meaning they require relatively large amounts of memory in addition to time-consuming computation and are thus more difficult to crack using GPUs and custom integrated circuits.
In a long-term Password Hashing Competition was announced to choose a new, standard algorithm for password hashing, with Argon2 chosen as the winner in Another algorithm, Balloon, is recommended by NIST. Both algorithms are memory-hard.
Solutions like a security token give a formal proof answer by constantly shifting password. Those solutions abruptly reduce the timeframe available for brute forcing (attacker needs to break and use the password within a single shift) and they reduce the value of the stolen passwords because of its short time validity.
Main category: Password cracking software
There are many password cracking software tools, but the most popular are Aircrack, Cain and Abel, John the Ripper, Hashcat, Hydra, DaveGrohl and ElcomSoft. Many litigation support software packages also include password cracking functionality. Most of these packages employ a mixture of cracking strategies, algorithm with brute force and dictionary attacks proving to be the most productive.
The increased availability of computing power and beginner friendly automated password cracking software for a number of protection schemes has allowed the activity to be taken up by script kiddies.
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Of password cracking methods
5 Common Password-Cracking Techniques Used by Hackers
How do hackers crack passwords? Check these common password-cracking techniques they use.
As an internet user using multiple services and websites — a login here, giving account access there — chances are your data might have been compromised. Here, check it yourself. If your data is breached, it’s probably floating on the dark web, and the first thing you should do is change it and create a new strong password. You don’t want any nefarious individuals to exploit your data. While if your account is still safe — well, congratulations.
However, whether your data is breached or not, educating yourself on cybersecurity and cybercrime can save you from a catastrophe. And thats what we do here at Digital Private Vault — educate and spread awareness. Here, understand these password-cracking techniques to make sure it never happens to you.
Common Password-Cracking Techniques
1. Brute Force Attack
In a brute-force attack, the attacker tries to crack the password by submitting various combinations until the correct one is found. The attacker uses software to make this process automated and run exhaustive combinations of passwords in significantly less amount of time. In the past few years, such software have been invigorated with the advancement in hardware and technology. In , a password-cracking expert unveiled a computer cluster that can guess billion combinations per second — and could crack any standard Windows password in less than 6 hours.
Now, that might make our flesh crawl but the good thing is this method is effective when it comes to guessing short passwords. As per NIST, bit passwords are capable to resist the brute force attack. Thus, creating long passwords with phrases, numerics and values make it difficult and time-consuming to crack.
2. Dictionary Attack
This password-cracking technique ‘dictionary attack’ gets its name for a reason. In this method, the hacker systematically enters every word in the dictionary to crack the password. This is a type of brute force attack but instead of submitting various combinations of symbols, numbers and words, this method only uses words that could be found in a dictionary.
The reason why this method can effectively crack the passwords is users’ negligence towards creating a strong password. UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) conducted a survey to analyze the accounts whose passwords were compromised. And as per the survey these accounts used silly common passwords, person’s names, names of bands, names of football clubs and dictionary words.
So if you are using a dictionary word as a password to sign in, there are chances your account is prone to be compromised.
However, you can be immune to a dictionary attack by using a combination of random dictionary words — such as GreenElephantTowerStone. As well as it’s best to combine it with numbers and characters for higher complexity and better security.
3. Rainbow Table Attack
When your passwords are stored on the server they are encrypted into meaningless strings of characters instead of storing as a plain text. This process is called hashing and it prevents your password from being misused. Whenever you enter your password to log in, it is converted into a hash value and compared with the previously stored one. And if the values match, you are logged into the system.
Suggested Read: CLOUD STORAGE SECURITY: IS YOUR DATA SAFE IN THE CLOUD?
Now, since the passwords are converted into hashes, the hackers try to gain authentication by cracking the password hash. And they do it by using a Rainbow table — a list of pre-computed hashes of possible password combinations. The hackers can look up to the rainbow table to crack the hash resulting in cracking your password.
Thus, it finds password hash from the database and eliminates the need to crack it. And further, it doesn’t require to find the password itself. If the hash matches, the breach is successful.
Rainbow table attack can be prevented by using different techniques including salt technique — which is adding random data to the passwords before hashing it.
4. Social Engineering
While the above password-cracking techniques use technical vulnerabilities, social engineering takes advantage of human errors and psychology. To put it simply social engineering is an act of manipulating the victim to gain confidential information such as bank information or passwords.
The reason why this method is quite prevalent among cybercriminals is that they know humans are the doorway to access the important credential and information. And through social engineering, they use tried and tested methods to exploit and manipulate ages-old human instincts, instead of finding new ways to break-in secure and advanced technology.
For example, it can be much easier to trick someone to share their password rather than trying to crack it. In fact, as per KnowBe4, a company providing security awareness training, 97% of the cybercriminals targets through Social Engineering.
Phishing is a type of social engineering used by cybercriminals to trick the users and acquire their sensitive information which is then used for cybercrimes such as financial breaches and data theft.
There are varied types of phishing — email spoofing, URL spoofing, website spoofing, smishing, vishing and more. The most common ones are done through email, phone and SMS.
In any of these types, the attacker masquerades as someone from a legit organization and creates a sense of curiosity, fear or urgency in the victims and tries to deceive them to provide sensitive information such as — identification information, financial and banking details, passwords and more.
An example can be a Phishing email informing the victim about a blocked credit card and creating a sense of urgency prompting you to login in to unblock it. Such email contains links to fake websites that resemble as legit but are used as a ploy. Once you click on the link and enter the credentials they now have access to it. So it’s essential to recognize and differentiate the illegitimate ones to save yourself from a Phishing catastrophe.
Some of the signs that you can recognize phishing are: too good to be true type of offers, generic email greeting, emails from unusual senders with hyperlinks and attachments, sweepstake, lottery, unrealistic or free prizes.
Hackers and cybercriminals are always on the hunt for new ways to crack your passwords and break-in. Thus, its essential to create strong and unique passwords for every account and store it securely. You can always use a vault app that makes the storing part easier. And its equally essential to stay alert about the scams and social engineering by educating yourself.
What is Password Cracking?
Password cracking is the process of attempting to gain Unauthorized access to restricted systems using common passwords or algorithms that guess passwords. In other words, it’s an art of obtaining the correct password that gives access to a system protected by an authentication method.
Password cracking employs a number of techniques to achieve its goals. The cracking process can involve either comparing stored passwords against word list or use algorithms to generate passwords that match
In this Tutorial, we will introduce you to the common password cracking techniques and the countermeasures you can implement to protect systems against such attacks.
Topics covered in this tutorial
What is password strength?
Password strength is the measure of a password’s efficiency to resist password cracking attacks. The strength of a password is determined by;
- Length: the number of characters the password contains.
- Complexity: does it use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbol?
- Unpredictability: is it something that can be guessed easily by an attacker?
Let’s now look at a practical example. We will use three passwords namely
For this example, we will use the password strength indicator of Cpanel when creating passwords. The images below show the password strengths of each of the above-listed passwords.
Note: the password used is password the strength is 1, and it’s very weak.
Note: the password used is password1 the strength is 28, and it’s still weak.
Note: The password used is #password1$ the strength is 60 and it’s strong.
The higher the strength number, better the password.
Let’s suppose that we have to store our above passwords using md5 encryption. We will use an online md5 hash generator to convert our passwords into md5 hashes.
The table below shows the password hashes
|Password||MD5 Hash||Cpanel Strength Indicator|
We will now use http://www.md5this.com/ to crack the above hashes. The images below show the password cracking results for the above passwords.
As you can see from the above results, we managed to crack the first and second passwords that had lower strength numbers. We didn’t manage to crack the third password which was longer, complex and unpredictable. It had a higher strength number.
Password cracking techniques
There are a number of techniques that can be used to crack passwords. We will describe the most commonly used ones below;
- Dictionary attack– This method involves the use of a wordlist to compare against user passwords.
- Brute force attack– This method is similar to the dictionary attack. Brute force attacks use algorithms that combine alpha-numeric characters and symbols to come up with passwords for the attack. For example, a password of the value “password” can also be tried as [email protected]$$word using the brute force attack.
- Rainbow table attack– This method uses pre-computed hashes. Let’s assume that we have a database which stores passwords as md5 hashes. We can create another database that has md5 hashes of commonly used passwords. We can then compare the password hash we have against the stored hashes in the database. If a match is found, then we have the password.
- Guess– As the name suggests, this method involves guessing. Passwords such as qwerty, password, admin, etc. are commonly used or set as default passwords. If they have not been changed or if the user is careless when selecting passwords, then they can be easily compromised.
- Spidering– Most organizations use passwords that contain company information. This information can be found on company websites, social media such as facebook, twitter, etc. Spidering gathers information from these sources to come up with word lists. The word list is then used to perform dictionary and brute force attacks.
Spidering sample dictionary attack wordlist<founder birth year> smith jones <founder name> acme <company name/initials> built|to|last <words in company vision/mission> golfing|chess|soccer <founders hobbies
Password cracking tool
These are software programs that are used to crack user passwords. We already looked at a similar tool in the above example on password strengths. The website www.md5this.com uses a rainbow table to crack passwords. We will now look at some of the commonly used tools
John the Ripper
John the Ripper uses the command prompt to crack passwords. This makes it suitable for advanced users who are comfortable working with commands. It uses to wordlist to crack passwords. The program is free, but the word list has to be bought. It has free alternative word lists that you can use. Visit the product website https://www.openwall.com/john/ for more information and how to use it.
Cain & Abel
Cain & Abel runs on windows. It is used to recover passwords for user accounts, recovery of Microsoft Access passwords; networking sniffing, etc. Unlike John the Ripper, Cain & Abel uses a graphic user interface. It is very common among newbies and script kiddies because of its simplicity of use. Visit the product website https://www.softpedia.com/get/Security/Decrypting-Decoding/Cain-and-Abel.shtml for more information and how to use it.
Ophcrack is a cross-platform Windows password cracker that uses rainbow tables to crack passwords. It runs on Windows, Linux and Mac OS. It also has a module for brute force attacks among other features. Visit the product website https://ophcrack.sourceforge.io/ for more information and how to use it.
Password Cracking Counter Measures
- An organization can use the following methods to reduce the chances of the passwords been cracked
- Avoid short and easily predicable passwords
- Avoid using passwords with predictable patterns such as
- Passwords stored in the database must always be encrypted. For md5 encryptions, its better to salt the password hashes before storing them. Salting involves adding some word to the provided password before creating the hash.
- Most registration systems have password strength indicators, organizations must adopt policies that favor high password strength numbers.
Hacking Activity: Hack Now!
In this practical scenario, we are going to crack Windows account with a simple password. Windows uses NTLM hashes to encrypt passwords. We will use the NTLM cracker tool in Cain and Abel to do that.
Cain and Abel cracker can be used to crack passwords using;
- Dictionary attack
- Brute force
We will use the dictionary attack in this example. You will need to download the dictionary attack wordlist here 10k-Most-Common.zip
For this demonstration, we have created an account called Accounts with the password qwerty on Windows 7.
Password cracking steps
- Open Cain and Abel, you will get the following main screen
- Make sure the cracker tab is selected as shown above
- Click on the Add button on the toolbar.
- The following dialog window will appear
- The local user accounts will be displayed as follows. Note the results shown will be of the user accounts on your local machine.
- Right click on the account you want to crack. For this tutorial, we will use Accounts as the user account.
- The following screen will appear
- Right click on the dictionary section and select Add to list menu as shown above
- Browse to the 10k most common.txt file that you just downloaded
- Click on start button
- If the user used a simple password like qwerty, then you should be able to get the following results.
- Note: the time taken to crack the password depends on the password strength, complexity and processing power of your machine.
- If the password is not cracked using a dictionary attack, you can try brute force or cryptanalysis attacks.
- Password cracking is the art of recovering stored or transmitted passwords.
- Password strength is determined by the length, complexity, and unpredictability of a password value.
- Common password techniques include dictionary attacks, brute force, rainbow tables, spidering and cracking.
- Password cracking tools simplify the process of cracking passwords.
- Nearest atm chase bank
- Long blunt haircut
- Smash bros combo list
- Arsenal discord server
- Green tea extract webmd
- Large white urn planter
- Garmin venu sq
- Stars part crossword clue
- Cafe astrology numerology 2
- Mauser stock
- Fragrances line discount code
The top 12 password-cracking techniques used by hackers
For many years, passwords were considered to be an acceptable form of protecting one’s privacy when it came to the digital world. However, as cryptography and biometrics started to become more widely available to the public, the flaws in this simple method of authentication became more noticeable.
It’s worth taking into account the role of a leaked password in one of the biggest cyber security stories of the last two years, the SolarWinds hack. It was revealed that ‘solarwinds’, a password created and leaked by an intern, had been publicly accessible through a private GitHub repository since June , enabling hackers to plan and carry out the massive supply chain attack. Despite this, even if the password hadn’t been leaked, it wouldn’t have been hard for attackers to guess it. In the words of US politician Katie Porter, most parents utilise a stronger password to stop their children from “watching too much YouTube on their iPad”.
Passwords that are weak or easy to guess are more common than you might expect: recent findings from the NCSC found that around one in six people uses the names of their pets as their passwords, making them highly predictable. To make matters worse, these passwords tend to be reused across multiple sites, with one in three people (32%) having the same password to access different accounts.
It should come as no surprise that passwords are the worst nightmare of a cyber security expert. To remedy this issue, there are steps worth taking, like implementing robust multi-layer authentication. It is also worthwhile mitigating risks to consider the steps cyber criminals must take to hack your account and “know your enemy”. We’ve put together the top 12 password-cracking techniques used by attackers to enable you and your business to be better prepared.
12 password-cracking techniques used by hackers:
Perhaps the most commonly-used hacking technique today, phishing is the practice of attempting to steal user information by disguising malicious content as a trustworthy communication. Although the term is generally associated with email, and there are terms to describe other mediums - such as ‘smishing’ (SMS phishing) - phishing can occur across any type of electronic communication.
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The typical tactic is to trick a user into clicking on an embedded link or downloading an attachment. Instead of being directed to a helpful resource, a malicious file is downloaded and executed on the user’s machine. What happens next depends entirely on the malware being executed – some may encrypt files and prevent the user from accessing the machine, while others may attempt to stay hidden in order to act as a backdoor for other malware.
As computer literacy has improved over the years, and as users have grown accustomed to online threats, phishing techniques have had to become more sophisticated. Today’s phishing usually involves some form of social engineering, where the message will appear to have been sent from a legitimate, often well-known company, informing their customers that they need to take action of some kind. Netflix, Amazon, and Facebook are often used for this purpose, as it’s highly likely that the victim will have an account associated with these brands.
The days of emails from supposed princes in Nigeria looking for an heir, or firms acting on behalf of wealthy deceased relatives, are few and far between these days, although you can still find the odd, wildly extravagant, claim here and there.
Our recent favourite is the case of the first Nigerian astronaut who is unfortunately lost in space and needs us to act as a man in the middle for a $3 million dollar transfer to the Russian Space Agency – which apparently does return flights.
2. Social engineering
Speaking of social engineering, this typically refers to the process of tricking users into believing the hacker is a legitimate agent. A common tactic is for hackers to call a victim and pose as technical support, asking for things like network access passwords in order to provide assistance. This can be just as effective if done in person, using a fake uniform and credentials, although that’s far less common these days.
Successful social engineering attacks can be incredibly convincing and highly lucrative, as was the case when the CEO of a UK-based energy company lost £, to hackers after they tricked him with an AI tool that mimicked his assistant’s voice.
Keyloggers, screen scrapers, and a host of other malicious tools all fall under the umbrella of malware, malicious software designed to steal personal data. Alongside highly disruptive malicious software like ransomware, which attempts to block access to an entire system, there are also highly specialised malware families that target passwords specifically.
Keyloggers, and their ilk, record a user’s activity, whether that’s through keystrokes or screenshots, which is all then shared with a hacker. Some malware will even proactively hunt through a user’s system for password dictionaries or data associated with web browsers.
4. Brute force attack
Brute force attacks refer to a number of different methods of hacking that all involve guessing passwords in order to access a system.
A simple example of a brute force attack would be a hacker simply guessing a person’s password based on relevant clues, however, they can be more sophisticated than that. Credential recycling, for example, relies on the fact that many people reuse their passwords, some of which will have been exposed by previous data breaches. Reverse brute force attacks involve hackers taking some of the most commonly used passwords and attempting to guess associated usernames.
Most brute force attacks employ some sort of automated processing, allowing vast quantities of passwords to be fed into a system.
5. Dictionary attack
The dictionary attack is a slightly more sophisticated example of a brute force attack.
This uses an automated process of feeding a list of commonly-used passwords and phrases into a computer system until something fits. Most dictionaries will be made up of credentials gained from previous hacks, although they will also contain the most common passwords and word combinations.
This technique takes advantage of the fact that many people will use memorable phrases as passwords, which are usually whole words stuck together. This is largely the reason why systems will urge the use of multiple character types when creating a password.
6. Mask attack
Where dictionary attacks use lists of all possible phrase and word combinations, mask attacks are far more specific in their scope, often refining guesses based on characters or numbers – usually founded in existing knowledge.
For example, if a hacker is aware that a password begins with a number, they will be able to tailor the mask to only try those types of passwords. Password length, the arrangement of characters, whether special characters are included, or how many times a single character is repeated are just some of the criteria that can be used to configure the mask.
The goal here is to drastically reduce the time it takes to crack a password, and remove any unnecessary processing.
7. Rainbow table attack
Whenever a password is stored on a system, it’s typically encrypted using a ‘hash’, or a cryptographic alias, making it impossible to determine the original password without the corresponding hash. In order to bypass this, hackers maintain and share directories that record passwords and their corresponding hashes, often built from previous hacks, reducing the time it takes to break into a system (used in brute force attacks).
Rainbow tables go one step further, as rather than simply providing a password and its hash, these store a precompiled list of all possible plain text versions of encrypted passwords based on a hash algorithm. Hackers are then able to compare these listings with any encrypted passwords they discover in a company’s system.
Much of the computation is done before the attack takes place, making it far easier and quicker to launch an attack, compared to other methods. The downside for cyber criminals is that the sheer volume of possible combinations means rainbow tables can be enormous, often hundreds of gigabytes in size.
8. Network analysers
Network analysers are tools that allow hackers to monitor and intercept data packets sent over a network and lift the plain text passwords contained within.
Such an attack requires the use of malware or physical access to a network switch, but it can prove highly effective. It doesn’t rely on exploiting a system vulnerability or network bug, and as such is applicable to most internal networks. It’s also common to use network analysers as part of the first phase of an attack, followed up with brute force attacks.
Of course, businesses can use these same tools to scan their own networks, which can be especially useful for running diagnostics or for troubleshooting. Using a network analyser, admins can spot what information is being transmitted in plain text, and put policies in place to prevent this from happening.
The only way to prevent this attack is to secure the traffic by routing it through a VPN or something similar.
Spidering refers to the process of hackers getting to know their targets intimately in order to acquire credentials based on their activity. The process is very similar to techniques used in phishing and social engineering attacks, but involves a far greater amount of legwork on the part of the hacker - although it’s generally more successful as a result.
How a hacker might use spidering will depend on the target. For example, if the target is a large company, hackers may attempt to source internal documentation, such as handbooks for new starters, in order to get a sense of the sort of platforms and security the target uses. It’s in these that you often find guides on how to access certain services, or notes on office Wi-Fi usage.
It’s often the case that companies will use passwords that relate to their business activity or branding in some way - mainly because it makes it easier for employees to remember. Hackers are able to exploit this by studying the products that a business creates in order to build a hitlist of possible word combinations, which can be used to support a brute force attack.
As is the case with many other techniques on this list, the process of spidering is normally supported by automation.
It’s important to remember that not all hacking takes place over an internet connection. In fact, most of the work takes place offline, particularly as most systems place limits on the number of guesses allowed before an account is locked.
Offline hacking usually involves the process of decrypting passwords by using a list of hashes likely taken from a recent data breach. Without the threat of detection or password form restrictions, hackers are able to take their time.
Of course, this can only be done once an initial attack has been successfully launched, whether that's a hacker gaining elevated privileges and accessing a database, by using a SQL injection attack, or by stumbling upon an unprotected server.
You might think the idea of someone looking over your shoulder to see your password is a product of Hollywood, but this is a genuine threat, even in
Brazen examples of this include hackers disguising themselves in order to gain access to company sites and, quite literally, look over the shoulders of employees to grab sensitive documents and passwords. Smaller businesses are perhaps most at risk of this, given that they’re unable to police their sites as effectively as a larger organisation.
Security experts recently warned of a vulnerability in the authentication process used by WhatsApp. Users trying to use WhatsApp on a new device must first enter a unique code that's sent via a text message, which can be used to restore a user's account and chat history from a backup. It was found that if a hacker was able to obtain a user's phone number, they are able to download the app to a clean device and issue a prompt for a new code, which, if they are in spying distance, they could copy as it arrives on the user's own device.
If all else fails, a hacker can always try and guess your password. While there are many password managers available that create strings that are impossible to guess, many users still rely on memorable phrases. These are often based on hobbies, pets, or family, much of which is often contained in the very profile pages that the password is trying to protect.
The best way to remove this as a potential avenue for criminals is to maintain password hygiene and make use of password managers, many of which are free.
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